The New York Red Bulls tilt against Atlanta United FC on Sunday is setting up to be the biggest match of the 2018 regular season.
The two teams are battling it out for the Supporters' Shield and the top spot in the Eastern Conference. While the Red Bulls have never lost to Atlanta (2-0-1), Head Coach Chris Armas knows this match will be the biggest test yet.
"We had a great match with Atlanta earlier this year, it was back-forth at times, we obviously edged them out," Armas said. "We have a lot of respect for Atlanta, they have a lot of weapons, they are coached well, but we are going to look to be the aggressors. We will make them earn everything that they get on the day."
Playing this one at Red Bull Arena should be an advantage for New York, in front of the home crowd.
"Our team has always risen to the occasion in big matches, especially at home," Armas said.
Defender Aaron Long knows they're a dangerous team, with MLS-leading goal scorer Josef Martinez leading the way.
"I mean they are a great team, obviously they are leading the table right now," Long said. "We all know that they are faster in transition, they have good players going forward, a lot of different threats. Just getting our unit back, being able to defend and shut them out, at home, is first priority and we’ll get our goals."
The Red Bulls will be going into the match without their leading goal-scorer -- and second in MLS -- Bradley Wright-Phillips, due to yellow card accumulation.
"It’s unfortunate that in this game, of this magnitude, that he’ll have to miss that," Armas said. "It hurts for us and for Brad, because he lives for those games. We see whether it is a Derby match, or big games, how he shows up and what he means to our team in every way so, we’ll honor him on the day and push for him too, but look, we like our roster. We have said it. We think Derrick [Etienne, Jr.] is dangerous, we have Brian White, we have [Anatole] Abang, we have plenty of guys that can fill in, that we have a lot of confidence in."
No matter what, Kemar Lawrence is expecting a battle -- and he's excited for it.
"I’m expecting the best," Lawrence said. "This is what we live for. I just want their best, simple as that. Bring everything you got from Atlanta and bring it to New York, bring it to New Jersey, and we will be up for the challenge. We’ll be ready."